What is Essentialism?
“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices re-actively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the non-essentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”
This book came to me via a recommendation from Bossed Up, an online group for women that deals with career, relationships and life. (Bossed Up has an accompanying podcast, which I also recommend.) I started reading the book at a time when I was struggling with setting my priorities and creating balance in my life. The first suggestion from the book that I followed was to make a pie chart of how you want to spend your week, including work, family, faith, hobbies, and any other things that you feel are important in your life. Then, spend a week tracking how you actually spend your time. If you’re anything like me, how you want to spend your time and how you actually spend your time are not the same. At that point, you have to examine your priorities, and focus on what you want the most. My mind was blown when I heard (I listened to this book on audio) the author, Greg McKeown, say, “The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing and it stayed singular for the next five hundred years.”
(That sound you hear is my mind exploding.) What he’s saying is this: You cannot have priorities. You can have priority. You have to decide what is the thing that you want to build your life around. I suggest that your priority be something that feeds your soul, gives your life meaning, and gives back to your community. But the great thing about priority is that you get to decide what that thing is.
Here’s the other mind-boggling thing from the book: “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
There will always be people telling you that THIS is the most important thing. Looking this way, being this kind of parent, doing these sorts of things, going on this kind of vacation… When you change your default answer from “yes” to “no,” you open up a world of possibilities for yourself. McKeown also writes, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” Too often it seems that people and organizations will tell you that this one particular task MUST be attended to, RIGHT THIS SECOND! One guideline I suggest is asking the person making the demand, “Where (or to whom) should I shift my other tasks so that I can give this task the time it deserves?” Alternatively, “What would you like me to de-prioritize?”
I would love it if every supervisor in the world read this book. Then we could really get a good conversation going about goal setting! Once I came to the realization that “only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” It completely changed how I look at setting goals. What do you think?